Sunder Katwala

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Sunder Katwala is the General Secretary of the Fabian Society.

Sunder is General Secretary of the Fabian Society, and took up the post in October 2003. Sunder joined the Fabian staff from The Observer where he was a leader writer and internet editor, as well as editor of The Observer's 2001 election guide. He was previously founding Research Director of The Foreign Policy Centre (1999 – 2001), where he wrote research reports including Reinventing the Commonwealth (1999) and Democratising Global Sport (2000) and was Commissioning Editor for Politics and Economics at Macmillan (1995-1999). Sunder is a regular contributor to broadcast and print media on British and international politics. His research interests include citizenship and British identity, the European Union, foreign policy and globalisation, and the future of Labour and progressive politics more generally.[1]


On neoconservatism and liberal internationalism

Katwala describes himself as a liberal internationalist, a position which he identifies with Tony Blair. He argues that liberal internationalism needs to be distinguished from neoconservatism if it is to regain credibility in the wake of Blair's support for the Iraq War.

Rescuing liberal internationalism requires what Blair never offered: a much clearer analysis of where it should differ deeply from the neocon project.
Liberal hawks who insist on retaining a "shoulder to shoulder" approach in the face of a "totalitarian threat" miss this central point. Alan Johnson's diagnosis of neoconitis suggests a "cure" which would kill the liberal internationalist patient for good: his analogy with total war against Hitler sounds like a recipe for the suppression of democratic scrutiny as long as it takes to "win" the "war on terror". But, as Philip Gordon asked in a cogent Foreign Affairs essay, what does victory look like?[2]

On Dean Godson

After Sadiq Khan was described by Dean Godson in the Times as "the most Islamist-friendly of MPs", Katwala wrote a letter to the paper arguing that the claim "does not stand up to scrutiny".[3]

He later wrote of Godson and Policy Exchange:

I think Policy Exchange's liberal credentials are seriously in question. And their work is driven by a neo-conservative agenda. I hate people throwing such terms around too lightly. (Anybody who calls Martin Bright a neo-con, as some do, is an idiot). I favour it having an accurate meaning. And Dean Godson seems to be the real deal; my sense is that Godson would accept that as a badge of pride: he certainly has the track-record.[4]

Dispute with Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen criticised the Fabian Society's approach to Islam in the Observer in March 2009:

When I asked Shiraz Maher, the co-author of the Policy Exchange report, why he had not offered his work to the leftish Fabians or Institute for Public Policy Research, he guffawed. They would never print what he wrote. For this Muslin liberal, the left was no longer a home but an obstacle.
Ed Husain did not laugh but exploded with anger. "Where is the centre-left movement combating extremism?" he thundered.[5]

Katwala responded in a post on the Fabian Next Left blog:

The jihadis are a small minority, and the ex-jihadis a fragment of that: they can not claim a monopoly of wisdom.
But we also have here the well-known phenomenon of the zeal of the convert. That is why several of the keenest neo-cons and Thatcherites had been Marxists; and why the most robotic control freaks in New Labour always seemed to have a Trot history.[6]

In a response on his blog, Cohen criticised the Fabian Labour MP Sadiq Khan for attending "the modern equivalent of a Mosleyite rally, the Global Peace & Unity conference".[7]

Katwala wrote in reply:

our esteemed columnist is now cutting and pasting the contents of a conference which did not involve the Fabians, because the Communities Minister Sadiq Khan - also our Chair - spoke in his ministerial capacity. (And was I responsible for all Treasury policy while Ed Balls was Fabian chair too?). I don't know if Cohen has read Khan's Fabian pamphlet, but I did supply him Khan's quotes on Hizb being like the BNP. What could have been clearer than that?[8]

Cohen was supported by Oliver Kamm, who criticised Khan for signing a round-robin letter to the Prime Minister which suggested that British foreign policy contributed to terrorism.[9]

The week following Cohen's article, the Observer printed a letter from Katwala and a number of other figures from the liberal-left:

Nick Cohen needs to find a new column to write. Yet again last Sunday, he declaimed that the liberal-left has failed to engage or support liberal Muslims, asserting that leading voices and institutions refuse to challenge Islamist extremism as well as opposing the BNP. But this is nonsense. It can be easily disproved by what we have all said and done.[10]

The round-robin letter was criticised by Martin Bright on his Spectator blog:

I find this very odd. I really like Sunder and always found him a friendly and thoughtful colleague when we worked together at the Observer.
But this is just bullying isn't it? Now Sunder has got his mates to gang up on Nick in a letter to the Observer , it looks even nastier. What on earth do these people think they are doing?[11]

Cohen himself responded:

intellectuals, Labour ministers and nominal lefties are behaving as the Daily Mail behaved in the Thirties and going along, or making excuses for, or turning a blind eye to the movements and ideologies of the far right, and ignoring the far right’s victims in the process.[12]

The Observer Readers' Editor addressed the issue a week later:

Katwala told me that Maher had never had any contact with the Fabians or the IPPR, but "his co-authored paper is quite good; it contains nothing we could not have published", so it would appear that Maher and Cohen's accusation of censorship is without foundation in this case.[13]

Shiraz Maher contested this conclusion in a letter to the Observer and a post on Harry's Place.[14][15]

Sadiq Khan was not the only person to speak at the “Being a British Muslim” event in 2006, but was also joined by Mohammed Abdul Bari from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB): a group Hazel Blears has recently shunned because of concerns about its views. On another occasion, the Fabian Society also hosted then General Secretary of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, at the “New Year Conference 2006” to speak about “Are we educating for a shared society?” In that year the Fabians also extended a platform to Tariq Ramadan, a man whose heteroglossia has given cause for real concern, to discuss “Islam of the West: Will the Reformers Win?”. The crucial point about all three of these men is that they have associations with not uncontroversial Islamist bodies. Why, then, did a centre-Left organisation choose to host them?[16]

Katwala responded in a letter to the Observer:

Shiraz Maher's letter (last week) falsely claims that the Fabian Society has "extended a platform to some of the most reactionary elements within the Muslim community" and so resuscitates a charge rejected by the readers' editor in his recent column. Maher turns out to be making an absurdly hyperbolic objection to Sir Iqbal Sacranie debating with Ben Summerskill of Stonewall and being challenged over gay rights in 2006. Maher calls that a mistake. I call it important democratic engagement.[17]





  1. Fabian Society - People - Sunder Katwala, accessed 17 April 2008.
  2. Sunder Katwala, Neocon tricks, Comment is Free,, 20 March 2008.
  3. Bugging, the law and Mr Khan, The Times, 8 February 2008.
  4. Sunder Katwala, Fact-checking Nick Cohen, Next Left: A Fabian Society Blog, 17 March 2009.
  5. Nick Cohen, It's little wonder liberal Muslims feel betrayed, The Observer, 15 March 2009.
  6. Sunder Katwala, Fact-checking Nick Cohen, Next Left: A Fabian Society Blog, 17 March 2009.
  7. Nick Cohen, The Faint-hearted Fabians, Nick Cohen: Writing from London, 18 March 2009.
  8. Sunder Katwala, Nick Cohen replies - but won't engage seriously, 18 March 2009.
  9. Oliver Kamm, Where Fabians Stand, TimesOnline, 18 March 2009.
  10. Nick Cohen is wrong about the liberal-left, The Observer, 22 March 2009.
  11. Martin Bright, The Left and Radical Islam, The Bright Stuff,, 25 March 2009.
  12. Nick Cohen, A Day with Round Robinocracy, Nick Cohen: Writing from London, 23 March 2009.
  13. Stephen Pritchard, The readers' editor on ... when comment spills over into feuding, The Observer, 5 April 2009.
  14. Shiraz Maher, Engaging with reactionary Islam, The Observer, 19 April 2009.
  15. Shiraz Maher, Shiraz Maher has his say, Harry's Place, 19 April 2009.
  16. Shiraz Maher, Shiraz Maher has his say, Harry's Place, 19 April 2009.
  17. Sunder Katwala, Old Accusations Revisited, The Observer, 19 April 2009.